Monday, 30 May 2016

Dandy Warhols (Limelight 2, May 27th 2016)

The Dandy Warhols, in their own inimitably casual way, left the Limelight revellers delighted by a triumphant Belfast show which was their debut in Northern Ireland - an incredible fact given their long and rich recording history.

The sun-soaked capital was the perfect setting for a night of hazy guitar heroics, kicked off suitably by a short set by London-based Happyness. Like many support acts, they fitted neatly into the main act's musical bubble, displaying a pronounced Pavement influence, which in this writer's mind can only be a good thing. Happyness have been touring buddies of The Dandy Warhols for a while now, and their potential is undeniable for some big headline sets of their own.

'Be-In' began the Warhols' set, laying out the stall for what was to come. Mid-tempo, blissed out, atmospheric and, most importantly of all, melodic. 'Crack Cocaine Rager', one of their many drug-inspired ditties, struts forth with aplomb, and 'Get Off' harks back to their chart-bothering days and feels oddly out of place as it skips breezily along.

'STYGGO' is an earworm from the new album that bathes the venue in a bit of tropical light even as the outside sun starts to fade. It has one of those wordless hooks that the Dandys do so well.

One of the set highlights comes from a somewhat unlikely source. On record (Distortland), 'Search Party' is fine and dandy (Sorry...) without really packing much of a punch. Here at the Limelight, it becomes a mammoth. Thundering bass, which as it turns out comes from the wonderfully talented Zia McCabe's extensive keyboard setup, married to an array of guitar effects and a galloping rhythm bring the song to new groovy life.

Zia departs for a couple of songs, leaving Courtney Taylor-Taylor to do a bit of solo strumming, but that only gives the audience to show off their chops with a bit of audience participation. No, not on keyboards, but with some loving singalongs of 'Everyday Should Be A Holiday' and 'Welcome To The Monkey House.' Courtney is suitably impressed, leading him to proclaim that the Irish do indeed "sing like bitches." As if there was any doubt.

With the band up to its full compliment, it is hits abound as 'Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth' receives a rapturous response. 'Bohemian Like You', perhaps inevitably, also receives one of the largest ovations of the night - the band's only UK top five hit thanks to a certain mobile phone ad, back when the main function of a phone was phone-calls!

Punctuating the night from time to time are numerous spacey psychedelic interludes, be that in the form of jamming or what resembles an attempt to contact extra-terrestrial beings through Courtney's microphone. The latter of those broke up the time between the main set and a wonderful rendition of one of their earliest hits and best-loved songs, Boys Better - a song that was getting loud requests from mid-set. Worth the wait undoubtedly, it was a perfect closer to an incredibly accomplished set.

Putting a full stop on the night, Zia came out to show off her DJ skills with a brief electronic flourish to send the punters on their way. We can expect to see The Dandy Warhols back in Belfast at the Ulster Hall next year should they keep their promises, and I imagine 90% of those present this time will be back for much more.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Brand New Friend, The Late Twos, Fox Colony (Belfast, McHughs, May 18th 2016)

Brand New Friend launched their debut EP 'American Wives', which incidentally is a must-buy, in some style at McHughs. The night as a whole was  full to the brim with energy and genuine enthusiasm for songcraft, and the headliners were ably supported by The Late Twos and, before them, Fox Colony.

Fox Colony are in fact fronted by the Brand New Friend bassist, Darren Hill, and theirs is a rather more melancholic sound, while still retaining infectious melodies aplenty. The Weekend was an early highlight of their set with the chant-able "We are, we are so fragile" contributing to a knockout chorus. Ghosts of Blink 182 haunt the likes of 'Patterns' (good thing) and early Biffy Clyro is another pleasing echo in the eerie 'Born In Blue.' 'Disappear' rounded Fox Colony's portion of the evening off with what started off moving the feet and then progressed into some Guitar Hero riffing towards the end. Great job all round!

The Late Twos have had some success already, earning play on Steve Lamacq's Radio One show amongst others, and there was an assurance to their set that suggested more plaudits could be on the way. 'Sierra Leone' was released as a single earlier this year and there was a fantastic rendition on show here. I could hear traces of Suede in its mid-tempo jangle. Their self-titled single and Never Mind were also highlights. Anyone from Bangor should also check out the video for Never Mind, they'll see some familiar sights!

To the main event, and Brand New Friend tore through their set with a sound recalling Ash and Los Campesinos. With vocals shared between siblings Taylor and Lauren Johnson, the harmonies and melodies are a perfect counterpoint to what are often bittersweet love songs, but these songs draw overwhelmingly from the sweet end of that spectrum, to their abundant benefit!

'American Wives' was their self-confessed "reason they are here" and the title track of the EP is less than two minutes of pop-rock gold. Equally infectious on record as on the stage, this had all the buzz of the Buzzcocks.

'Settle Down' was another highlight with the colourful keyboards hooking you in right away. 'Your Friends Hate Me' had a breakneck refrain of "I go out while you stay home again" and was definitely a popular choice amongst the small but passionate crowd.

The closing duo of songs was what really capped the night off for the band. They invited local icon Gerry Norman on stage and he joined them before they started off 'I Was An Astronaut', another standout from the EP. 'I Love You Goodbye' brought things to a close with aplomb, and you should expect to see Brand New Friend in bigger venues before long.

Buy their EP 'American Wives' here. I recommend!

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Mighty Stef, Thee Penny Dreadfuls, Petty Youth, Buffalos Bay, (Belfast Empire, May 12th 2016 review)

The Mighty Stef played their final Belfast gig in the Empire on Thursday night, as the final curtain comes down on their time together as a band.

The Dublin quintet headlined three and a half hours of stellar rock and roll and got quite a send-off from a small but raucous crowd.

Proceedings kicked off with Buffalos Bay, a six-piece with a distinct psychedelic flavour, and they kicked off with a organ-heavy take on The Rolling Stones' The Last Time, which was a nice, solid start.

As their set progressed, their tightness as a musical unit was fairly apparent - all the more impressive since they only formed last summer. Their fondness for the '60s and '70s was evident in their set, but it led to a storming setlist. Pink Floyd, The Kinks, The Beatles all getting an airing.

Petty Youth ramped things up a notch, and were the standout of the support acts for me. The opener, You Do Me No Good, instantly brought to mind The Hives, a feeling that was repeated with Caught Up On You.

They slowed the tempo down for Something In My Drink for their self-confessed blues homage, but even that displayed an impressive ferocity. S.I.C.K was a stormer of a closer, with a double-time race to the finish line towards the end.

Thee Penny Dreadfuls brought an extremely dark and dense psychedelic feel to the night, with that adjective proving a good sum-up for the night as a whole. You would imagine Otto the bus driver from The Simpsons would have had a blast tonight.

With swirling organs and gruff vocals adding to a dark storm of riffs and aggression, there remained enough melody and attention to rhythm to get the head nodding. The aptly named Pop Song in particular was a highlight.

The main attraction, The Mighty Stef, provided a great send-off for the night as a whole. At the time of writing, they are putting the final full stop on their career in Dublin, but this was an ideal way to bring their Belfast touring lives to a close.

I myself was hooked in by Everybody Needs A Grave, and so that was what I was waiting for. Surprisingly, it was neither an opener or a closer, with it appearing just over halfway through. It lost none of its majesty on the stage, and will surely go down as a career high.

The set was opened by another recent favourite, Stella, and they earnt themselves a warm reception as they tore through it with glee.

A sped up version of Ceremony got quite a few hips moving, and had it been released in the guitar explosion of the noughties it would have scored them a national hit, although you could say that about a number of their tracks.

Another example would be We Want Blood, which even got a bit of crowd participation.

A stirring rendition of Magazine was an ideal way to finish, and in-keeping with the retro feel of the night in general, segued into a cover of Velvet Underground's Waiting For The Man.

Overall, I'd be hard pressed to get a more value-for-money tenner's worth of live music this year. The Mighty Stef will remain active musicians, just not as we currently know them, and it is certainly well worth keeping an eye on their future plans.